Strauss Surname Meaning, History & Origin

Strauss Surname Meaning

Strauss is a Germanic surname made famous by the 19th century composers Johann Strauss with his Viennese waltzes and Richard Strauss with his operas such as Der Rosenkavalier.

The surname seemed to have started out as a nickname, either as an awkward or belligerent person (from struz meaning “to quarrel”) or as a person who might wear a hat with ostrich feathers (from struze meaning “ostrich”).

Strauss can be a German or a German Jewish surname. A Strauss came to South Africa in 1723, to America in 1732, and was recorded in England in 1790. Sometimes the surname has been spelt Straus.

Strauss Surname Resources on The Internet

Strauss Surname Ancestry

  • from SE Germany and from Jewish emigrants
  • to America, England and South Africa

The Strauss surname is found mainly in Austria and in southern and eastern Germany today. The numbers are about 20,000 in Germany as a whole and another 5,000 in Austria.  The Jewish numbers, once found in the Judengasse in Frankfurt, have declined.

America. The earliest Strauss arrivals in America were probably two brothers from Wurttemberg, Albrecht and John Philip Strauss, who arrived in Philadelphia in 1732 and settled in Berks county. They left their name to Strausstown (where a subsequent John Strauss had a large farm and distillery). Some of these Strauss descendants changed their spelling to Strause.

A later example of a spelling change was Strauss becoming Strouse in Indiana in the 1860’s. Another Strauss in Indiana changed his name to Stross.

Raphael Strauss came to Ohio from Bavaria in 1858. He was a portrait and miniaturist painter by trade. Six of his paintings are displayed in the Cincinnati Art Museum. His son Joseph was the chief engineer in the building of the Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco.

Ludwig Strauss meanwhile arrived in Milwaukee in the 1880’s. His sons started the Strauss Brothers meatpacking business in 1937. This business is now run by the third generation of Strausses.

Jewish.  The majority of the Strausses who came in the 19th century were Jewish.

The most famous of them was Levi Strauss, the inventor of blue jeans. Growing up in Bavaria, he joined his older brothers in New York in 1848. They operated a small dry goods business there. When he heard about the California gold rush he headed West and started his own dry goods business in San Francisco. It was in 1873 that the Levi Strauss Company patented a new denim work overall and blue jeans were born. Levi himself died unmarried in 1902 and his legacy was passed onto his four nephews.

Lazarus Straus meanwhile had come to America in 1854 from the Rhineland Palatinate, settling first in Georgia and then, after the Civil War, in New York. His three sons all made their mark there – Nathan and Isidor as co-owners of New York’s biggest department stores (Macy’s and Abraham & Straus) and Oscar who in 1906 became the first Jewish US Cabinet minister.

Isidor Straus died with his wife when the Titanic sank in 1912. His son Jesse served as US ambassador to France in the 1930’s. Nathan Straus gave away most of his fortune to Jewish projects in Palestine. Meanwhile Roger Straus, the grandson of Oscar, was the co-founder and chairman of Farrar, Straus and Giroux, a New York book publishing company.

Other notable 19th century immigrants were:

  • Raphael Strauss from Baden-Wurttemberg who came to upstate New York in the 1850’s and ran a dry goods business there. His son Joseph was a naval officer in World War One and later commanded the Asiatic fleet, the first Jewish Admiral of the US Navy.
  • and Leopold Strauss from Alsace who fought on the Confederate side in the Civil War and whose son Leopold became a civic leader in Montgomery, Alabama.

Charles Strauss came to the US from Germany in 1915, hoping to become a concert pianist. Instead he opened a dry goods store in rural Texas. But he had two remarkable sons who were each to make their mark in very different areas:

  • Robert Strauss, the legendary Washington insider who was to serve Presidents from Carter through Reagan to Bush. Bush appointed him ambassador to the Soviet Union in 1991.
  • while Ted Strauss became a Dallas entrepreneur, well-known in his own right and also via his wife Annette who served as mayor of Dallas.

Arnold Strauss arrived in Virginia in 1935, escaping Nazism. Sadly both his parents were trapped in the Netherlands when the Germans invaded that country in 1940.  

England.  The Strauss name in England is not that common, although one Strauss line has been traced back to Charles Strauss in London sometime around 1790.

Alphonse and Arthur Strauss arrived in London as Jewish merchants from Mainz in the 1860’s. Both prospered, Alphonse as a general merchant in London and Arthur as a wealthy tin merchant in Cornwall (known as the “tin king”) and Liberal MP there. Both had illustrious sons:

  • Alphonse with Henry Strauss, a Conservative MP who became Baron Conesford
  • and Arthur with George Strauss, a long-time Labor MP who became Baron Strauss.

The recent English cricket captain Andrew Strauss has South African heritage, having been born in Johannesburg.  

South Africa. Georg Friedrich Strauss emigrated from Strasbourg to the Cape Colony as a midshipman on the Adelaar in 1723. His descendants in South Africa, via his sons David and Johannes, are numerous.

One line from Johannes led to J.G.N. (or Koos) Strauss from the Northern Cape who was leader of the opposition United Party from 1950 to 1956 at the time that the pro-apartheid National Party was on the rise.

Strauss Surname Miscellany

Strauss in Germanic Lands.  The Strauss name in Germany covers a large and genetically varied group of people of German and German Jewish origin.

It is thought that the name has been used by families in the Germanic area for at least a thousand years. The overlord of Gröna in Saxony, for example, went by the name of Struz. He used the image of an ostrich as his symbol.   Examples of the ostrich can still be seen in the church bell of that town.Struz or Struzeis the North German form of Strauss, as well as being the German for ostrich.  A branch of the Grona family later built a keep at Strausberg near Sonderhausen in Thuringia.

Some of the earliest Jewish bearers of the Strauss name hailed from the Judengasse in medieval Frankfurt. Notable other Jewish names here were Rothschild, Schiff and Stern. There families were generally known by the names of the house they inhabited. All the houses had names and these included Haus Strauss, complete with an image of an ostrich on the façade. Samuel Straus who lived in the mid-19th century was descended from this group.

When, for tax purposes, Napoleon made surnames obligatory in 1808, some more Jewish families decided to take the name Strauss or Straus. In many cases it was purely an ornamental name.

Georg Friedrich Strauss to South Africa in 1723.  Georg Friedrich Strauss grew up in a middle class family in Strasbourg in German-speaking Alsace. His grandfather Johann was a prominent merchant in the town and his father Christoph had married well.

But Georg decided on a life at sea and, at the age of 26, enlisted as a midshipman on the Dutch vessel Adelaar in 1723.  The ship departed in June that year for Batavia in the Dutch East Indies with 135 sailors and 90 soldiers onboard.

When the vessel reached the Cape of Good Hope in October, Georg had a change of heart and jumped ship.  Perhaps he was fortunate.  The Adelaar sank off the Hebrides in Scotland five years later.

Georg found work as a plumber in Drakenstein.  In 1729 he married Johanna Mouton, the daughter of a French Huguenot. Shortly after his marriage, he moved with his wife to Cape Town where they had five children.  From two of their sons, David and Johannes, came a large number of descendants.

Isadore and Ida Straus on the Titanic.  Travelling back from a winter in Europe, Isidor Straus and his wife Ida were passengers on the Titanic when, on the night of April 14, 1912, she hit an iceberg.

Once it was clear that the Titanic was sinking, Ida refused to leave Isidor and would not get into a lifeboat without him.  Although Isidor was offered a seat in a lifeboat to accompany Ida, he refused seating while there were still women and children aboard and refused to be made an exception.

According to friend and Titanic survivor Colonel Gracie, Gracie had offered to ask a deck officer if Isidor and Ida could both enter a lifeboat together. Isidor was reported to have told Gracie in a firm tone: “I will not go before the other men.” Ida insisted her newly hired English maid, Ellen Bird, get into the lifeboat. She gave Ellen her fur coat stating she would not be needing it. Ida was reported to have said, “I will not be separated from my husband. As we have lived, so will we die together.”

Isidor and Ida were last seen on deck arm in arm. Eyewitnesses described the scene as “a most remarkable exhibition of love and devotion.” Both died on April 15 when the ship sank at 2:20 am. Isidor Straus’s body was recovered.  But Ida’s body was never found.

The Isidor and Ida Straus Memorial is located at Straus Park on the Upper West Side of Manhattan, one block from where they resided at 105th Street and West End Avenue. An inscription reads: “Lovely and pleasant they were in their lives, and in death they were not divided.”

Ted Strauss’s Entrepreneurial Wheeze.  Always an entrepreneur at heart, Ted Strauss started up a giftwrap and packaging company in 1951.  At that time only plain paper was available at department stores.  He introduced themed gift wrapping paper which later became the rage of the retail industry.

How Strauss went about creating that niche has been one of Dallas’ legendary business tales.  Looking to make the right connections, Strauss went after Stanley Marcus to get Neiman Marcus’ official seal of approval.  Strauss figured that was the closest thing to a royal endorsement in Dallas. Strauss didn’t have a desk or an office. So he called Marcus from a pay phone to make the appointment.

“You gotta love the audacity,” Strauss recalled in 2005. “Two kids in our 20’s calling on the most famous name in fashion about helping us start a giftwrap business. His immediate response before quickly showing us the door was ‘Have you lost your minds?’

“But as we were leaving his office, he told us, ‘If you ever actually get a good idea, call me.’ Two weeks later, I called him back and told him, ‘I have a great idea.’ He asked, ‘What is it?’ And I said, ‘The same one.’” After much discussion, Marcus agreed to let Strauss add “Designs by Neiman Marcus” to the company’s name.  It was a multimillion-dollar global business when Strauss sold it in 1966.

The Struasses Escaping Nazism.  Arnold Strauss had trained as a doctor and in the 1930’s was working as a pathologist at a hospital in Berlin.  In 1933 Hitler came into power and began to implement his policies against Jews. Because the Strausses were of Jewish ancestry they were subject to these discriminative policies and found it hard to continue to work.

In 1933 Arnold and his parents Arthur and Lucy immigrated to the Netherlands.  Two years later Arnold secured a position at St. Vincent’s Hospital in Norfolk, Virginia and immigrated to the United States.  His father Arthur, who was a very patriotic man and loved Germany greatly, was reluctant to leave Europe.  It wasn’t until 1938 that he finally gave up hope of returning to Germany and agreed to immigrate to the United States.

But when Arnold began trying to obtain immigrant visas for them to join him in the United States it was probably too late – due to the large numbers of people also trying to leave Europe at that time.  When the German army invaded the Netherlands in May 1940 the Strausses became trapped there.  Arthur and Lucy endured four months of the Nazi occupation of the Netherlands. Then, after apparently losing hope of being able to join Arnold in the United States, they took their own lives in September 1940.

Arnold married an American, Marjory Ware Spindle, in Virginia in 1941 and lived onto 1965.

Strauss Names

  • Levi Strauss was the US West Coast immigrant at the time of the California Gold Rush who founded the Levi Strauss Company which became world-famous for the manufacture of blue jeans. 
  • Isidor Straus was the New York businessman who co-owned Macy’s department store and died on the Titanic when she sank in 1912.   
  • Joseph Strauss was the chief engineer for the Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco that was completed in 1937. 
  • Koos Strauss was the leader of the opposition United Party in South Africa from 1950 to 1956. 
  • Robert Strauss was the legendary Washington insider, serving Presidents from Carter through Reagan to Bush.

Strauss Numbers Today

  • 600 in the UK (most numerous in London)
  • 6,000 in America (most numerous in New York)
  • 2,000 elsewhere (most numerous in Canada)

Strauss and Like Surnames 

The first wave of German immigration into America came in the early 1700’s from the Rhine Palatine and Switzerland.  They were fleeing religious persecution at home.  Most ended up in Pennsylvania, bringing their Mennonite church with them.  Some went to the Mohawk Valley in upstate New York.  Their Germanic names often changed under English rule to English-style names.  Thus Fischer became Fisher, Schneider Snyder, Hubner Hoover and so forth.

The reasons for immigration were different in the 19th century – in search of a better life, sometimes to avoid the draft.  They came from all German states and went not just to Pennsylvania but all over as the middle and west of the country was opening up.  And they brought German skills with them, notably beer-making.

Here are some of the notable German surnames in America that you can check out.




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Written by Colin Shelley

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